Dec 20

Portugal’s rich culinary history: Smoke filled eyes, emergency 112 calls and dentists

by in Blog, Destination guides, Europe, Portugal

Kicking off your shoes and feeling the sand between your toes on some of Portugal’s finest golden beaches is an unforgettable experience.

But you can work up quite an appetite!  Fortunately, the Algarve boasts some of Portugal’s best cuisine.  Tickle your taste buds with these three classic dishes when you’re next in the Algarve region.

Sardinhas assadas

Sardines usually evoke images of shrivelled fish on top of pizzas and long frowns as people wrinkle their noses in disgust.  But the sardines caught in Portugal’s oceans are meaty, flavourful and embedded in Portuguese culture.  Portugal’s reputation of having the finest sardines in the Mediterranean is rivalled only by Italy and Spain.  They have a much meatier flavour than you may expect – they taste more like a richer tuna.  I fondly recall spending many balmy nights fending off thick clouds of smoke and succumbing to the aroma of sardines being cooked over hot charcoals by the little quay in the beautiful seaside town of Portimão.

Sardines are such an important part of local culture that they play a role in local festivals.  In February, the picturesque village of Carvoeiro celebrates Carnival.  Families cram together (like sardines!) as they join processions of giant sardine floats winding their way through cobbled streets.  Or if you’re staying in the area in early to mid-August, join the locals as they celebrate the Sardine Festival in Portimão.

Chicken Piri Piri

If sardines are not your taste, don’t worry.  Portugal has much to offer the travelling foodie.  For a main course, consider the local specialty of chicken piri-piri.  This fiery entrée owes its name to the crimson coloured pepper that livens up the sauce.  Grown in southern Africa, in former Portuguese colonial territories, the piri-piri pepper (or African Birds Eye Chilli) is a dozen times hotter than a jalapeno pepper.  The first time I tried it, even the local Bombeiros (firemen) would have struggled to contain the fire that raged in all 4 corners of my mouth!

The sauce is made from crushed African Birds Eye Chillies, onion, garlic, pepper, salt, citrus zest, lemon juice, paprika, pimiento, basil, oregano, bay leaves and tarragon.  If you’re feeling adventurous and do not have asbestos lined tonsils, ask the waiter to put a splash of the sauce on the side of your grilled chicken.  But remember to have emergency number 112 programmed in your ‘phone and a full bottle of ice cold Sagres beer on hand.

Pastel de nata

No meal is complete without dessert and Portugal was single-handedly responsible for increasing demand for dentists in far flung places like Brazil, Mozambique, India and Macau.  As Portugal’s seafarers sailed to all 4 corners of the globe, they introduced Pasteis de Natas, a national egg tart pastry with centuries old history, to anyone looking for a quick sugar fix.   A pastel de nata is a wonderfully simple dessert and is synonymous with Portugal.  They’re soft and creamy on the inside and crispy on the outside – just writing about them, stirs up vivid memories of “having just one more” and licking my lips at the end of a wonderful meal.

“When in Rome, do as the Romans do” as the cliché goes and “When in Portugal, eat until your heart’s content”.  Shadow-box through thick clouds of barbeque smoke; tackle an African Birds Eye, and become best friends with your dentist because there’s a big prize awaiting you.  Discover Portugal’s love affair for fresh fish, spices and custard tarts and you’ll soon realise that there’s more to the Land of Navigators than Port.  It deserves its status as a country with a rich culinary history.

 

12 Responses to “Portugal’s rich culinary history: Smoke filled eyes, emergency 112 calls and dentists”

  1. From Tracey:

    I remember visiting Portugal several years ago and your story made me want to be back there – thanks!

    Posted on 27. Dec, 2012 at 9:06 pm #
  2. From marcus:

    I like yoru sense of humour. Carvoeiro is a lovely friendly village with lot of things to do close to hand. I know what you mean about the sardines – fresh and wonderful!

    Posted on 27. Dec, 2012 at 9:15 pm #
  3. From Susie Voeks:

    Anyone who has ever been to the Algarve will know how good the fish tastes there! I kmow what you mean about the Piri sauce. I travel to India a lot and the Piri sauce would be well accepted in any Delhi restaurant.

    Posted on 04. Jan, 2013 at 9:05 pm #
  4. From Scott Hall:

    Awesome article dude! I have just comeback from Portugal and loved the Algarve.

    Posted on 22. Jan, 2013 at 10:02 pm #
  5. From Samantha Charlton:

    Just reading this article made my mouth water. It brought back fond memories of Portugal. There is something incredibly evocative about the cuisine and spices of the Mediterranean. No trip to Portugal would be complete without indulging in one of their deliciously-spiced dishes – and Pastal de nata is addictive! I visited Lisbon a few years back and can still remember an unforgettable dish: salmon baked in Port and served with steamed carrots and courgettes. The richness of the Port – another famous Portugese export – complemented the tender salmon, which simply melted in my mouth! Even years later, I still have vivid memories of that meal. I also remember the friendliness of the other diners, and the informality of the setting that made me feel as if I were dining at someone’s home. Portugal is definitely a foodie’s dream but it’s also a feast for the eyes and soul.

    Posted on 23. Jan, 2013 at 9:18 pm #
  6. From Alan King:

    I have read many of your articles with interest and thought that I’d leave another comment on this post. I have not yet been to Portugal and had not even considered it before but when I next go to europe i”ll give it a go.

    Posted on 26. Jan, 2013 at 10:15 pm #
  7. From Alissa Brand:

    I really do not recommend to read this article to all women who is keeping to a diet! You didn’t just tickle our taste recipes, but my drool ran down! But seriously, a great sense of humor! And now, I know exactly where I will spend my next birthday!
     

    Posted on 28. Jan, 2013 at 5:00 am #
  8. From Izy Berry:

    Wow, the pictures of the Pasteis de Natas have brought me back to my first visit to Lisbon. My friend grew up there and said no trip to Lisbon – or even Portugal – would be complete without indulging in some Pasteis de Natas. I was sent, with very specific instructions, to visit Pasteis de Belem on my very first day and to order no less than two of these delicious treats.

    The building itself at least half the experience: adorned with beautiful tiles and elegant tableware, it pays respect to the company’s 70 year history. The smell of freshly baked pasteis encases the surrounding stores and gently lures you inside. There’s always a bustling crowd, mostly mothers and grandmothers buying the delicious pasteis for their loved ones. You could see the staff delicately removing fresh pasteis as they were baked, pacing themselves to keep up with the demand.

    I ordered two pasteis, as per my strict instructions, and noticed they were still warm in the bag. There’s no way to describe the feeling of crunching into the perfect pairing of the flaky pastry and buttery custard – it’s an experience every person should indulge in at least once in their lifetime. My intentions were to keep the other pastei as a snack for later, but as soon as I’d finished the first I was tempted by the second.

    Pasteis should come with their own warning label – they are dangerously irresistible. As much as I loved Lisbon and the culinary delights on offer, the pasteis were the only true serious concern for my waistline. It was probably for the best that my visit to Lisbon only lastest a few days, otherwise I might have had to invest in a new wardrobe.

    Posted on 29. Jan, 2013 at 2:57 pm #
  9. From Annie:

    I really like ham and peas in my pasta. I like
    salmon loaf with peas in product sauce. So how could I
    not adore this dish….better of all worlds.
    Many thanks with the publish.

    Posted on 11. Apr, 2013 at 1:39 am #
  10. From Lisa Trappatoni:

    The Algarve is my favourite place in Europe and I always love to read other people’s comments about the place. I have Chicken Piri Piri all the time and my sweet tooth ensures that i also sample Portugals desserts every night too!

    Posted on 22. Dec, 2013 at 3:09 am #
  11. From Susan Vasson:

    Awesome place. The Algarve has many places like Carvoeiro. Can’t wait to go back.

    Posted on 28. Dec, 2013 at 8:01 pm #
  12. From Sakura Tomaso:

    I am planning to go to Portugal this year and am looking forward to following some of your tips. I have also visited your beautiful country in New Zeeland and came across your site recently for things to do.

    Posted on 29. Dec, 2013 at 11:06 am #

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